Attack on Titan: Before the Fall

Attack on Titan: Before the FallAuthor: Ryo Suzukaze
Illustrator: Thores Shibamoto

Translator: Ko Ransom
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781939130860
Released: September 2014
Original release: 2011

Hajime Isayama’s manga series Attack on Titan has become extraordinarily successful not only in Japan but worldwide as well. The series has inspired numerous manga spinoffs, anime, games, and more. Attack on Titan: Before the Fall is the first of three light novels written by Ryo Suzukaze and illustrated by Thores Shibamoto which serve as a prequel to Isayama’s original series. The second and third novels have been adapted as the manga series Attack on Titan: Before the Fall, illustrated by Satoshi Shiki, which is being released in English by Kodansha Comics. The first Before the Fall novel, however, was licensed and released by Vertical in 2014 with an English translation by Ko Ransom. Currently the novel, which was originally published in Japan in 2011, is chronologically the earliest story set in the Attack on Titan universe. I’m fascinated by the Attack on Titan phenomena and the large fanbase that it has developed, not to mention the series itself, so I was very interested in reading the Before the Fall prequel.

Angel Aaltonen may be young, but his ingenuity is impressive. A master craftsman, he and the others at the workshop he is a part of strive to design, create, and improve the weapons used in humanity’s fight for survival against the Titans. Except that Angel has never actually seen a Titan. Neither has most of the human population which seeks safety within a series of enormous walls. But while for a time they may be safe, they are also trapped by their own defenses. Only the members of the Survey Corps and Garrison forces have directly confronted the Titans, gigantic monstrosities that devour humans and bring destruction and terror. Even more dire is the fact no one knows how to stop or defeat the Titans. Angel and many others fear that one day the unthinkable will happen and the walls will fail. They are determined to discover the Titan’s weaknesses before that can happen, but the existing political and religious situation will make that prospect even more difficult than it already is to accomplish.

Most of the stories in Attack on Titan as a whole follow those characters who serve in the military—the people who are on the front lines directly fighting the Titans. Before the Fall, however, focuses on those who work behind the scenes to make those battles possible—the scientists, craftsmen, and engineers. (Granted, by the end of Before the Fall, Angel has become fairly hands-on himself.) It’s an interesting approach, giving a slight spin to an already familiar story, and one that I particularly liked and appreciated. Among other things, Before the Fall shows the development of some of the most iconic technology in Attack on Titan, the three-dimensional maneuvering gear. But as intriguing as the story is in Before the Fall, sadly the writing itself isn’t particularly engaging and the novel ends up being fairly slow going despite several intense action sequences. There were also a few frustratingly obvious oversights made by the characters; I found it difficult to believe that their logic would have been so flawed. Ultimately, I liked the premise of Before the Fall much more than its execution.

Although the writing might not be the best, where Before the Fall excels is in providing Attack on Titan with more thoroughly grounded worldbuilding, backstory, and lore. Suzukaze not only explores the development and creation of the equipment and weapons that will be used to fight the Titans, he also shows the beginning of the unrest between the general population, the military and government, and the religious cults and factions. There is enough of a basic introduction to the world that even readers who aren’t familiar with Attack on Titan should be able to easily follow Before the Fall, but the novel will appeal most to those who already know and enjoy the franchise. Before the Fall doesn’t tend to have the overwhelmingly bleak atmosphere of the original manga series, but it is still definitely a part of Attack on Titan, meaning that there are many casualties and several gruesome and horrifying turns of events. The air of dark mystery generally found in Attack on Titan remains in Before the Fall, as do the desperate punctuations of human hope and determination in the face of annihilation.

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